Travelling with IBD
Now that the world is finally returning to a post-covid normal, travelling (locally, interstate or overseas) is back on the cards. But if you have IBD this can often cause some extra pre-holiday stress.
Before your trip
It’s important to be well prepared before your trip, which includes letting your IBD team when you start planning your trip. They can advise if you need to do anything before leaving, such as receive additional vaccinations or medications, or whether it’s best not to travel in your current state.
If you’re travelling overseas it’s highly recommended to purchase travel insurance, but it could also be useful for trips closer to home as well in case you need to cancel because of a flare. You’ll need to make sure your IBD and any other conditions are covered or be aware of the limitations. You may need your doctor to help fill out documents to clarify your pre-existing condition as well.
At the very least, you should ask your doctor to provide a letter outlining your current medications. This can be helpful with security, airline or other official personnel. They can also provide a brief medical history, which will be helpful if you need to see a doctor while you’re away. Talk to your provider if you have an ostomy pouch or rely on enteral nutrition.
You may also want a written plan of action, just in case things get worse while you’re travelling. Also keep your doctor’s contact details with you, so you can easily get in touch if needed.
Planning your transportation
If you’ll be travelling long distances by bus or train, find out in advance if they have bathrooms onboard. When travelling by air, try and get an aisle seat near the bathroom, so you have easy access if needed.
Packing for your trip
As a rule, pack all of your medications (or ostomy appliances) in your carry-on luggage, in case your bags go missing in transit. You’ll need to have enough of your medication to cover you for the entire trip, plus a bit extra in case of delays or other unforeseen circumstances. It could be hard (and expensive) trying to get your specialised prescriptions filled overseas. Your doctor will be able to help in getting extra doses, just remember to keep your medication in its original, labelled containers.
If your medications must be taken at a certain time of the day, speak with your doctor about how to adjust to the time change. An alarm may help at reminding you to take your medications at the correct time.
You may also want to take your preferred diarrheal medication, cold and flu tablets, and pain medication in case you can’t get them where you’ll be travelling.
It’s a great idea to always have a travel kit on you, including important items such as:
- Spare clothes.
- Toilet paper and wet wipes.
- Antibacterial hand gel and disinfectant wipes for seats, tables and other commonly touched areas.
- Plastic bag for dirty clothes or disposal.
- Disposable gloves.
- Barrier cream.
- Electrolyte solution or tablets.
- Steroid medication and possible some antibiotics.
Staying well while away
Avoiding a flare
While it can be easy to get caught up in the holiday excitement, try and avoid foods that cause flares. It’s going to be better in the long run!
If you’re travelling to a less developed country, remember some simple tips that can help you avoid traveller’s diarrohea:
- Only drink bottled or boiled water.
- Avoid ice (likely made with tap water).
- Avoid raw vegetables or fruit that may have been washed in contaminated water.
- Do not eat food from street vendors.
- Wash your hands in soap and water or carry anti-bacterial gel.
Finding a doctor in an emergency
Depending on where you’re travelling, your specialist may be able to recommend a doctor or specialist local to the area you’re visiting. You can also do some research before your trip to find the names and details of local hospitals and clinics. The local consulate or your hotel concierge may also be able to help.
IAMAT is also a great resource, as they provide details on English-speaking doctors in several countries, eliminating the extra barrier of language.
In the digital era, there are many great apps to help find bathrooms. Some great resources include:
If you’re travelling somewhere that doesn’t have an app, research ahead of time to see if you can find a map or local info. Locating major shopping malls, chain restaurants like McDonald’s and tourist spots may help as there will often be public bathrooms there.
If you’re travelling somewhere where you don’t speak the language, learn a few key phrases or words that you might need to know – such as toilet, bathroom, emergency, doctor and pharmacy. You may also add some culinary words to your list, to help you when dining if you know you have sensitivities to certain foods.
You may also want to download an app that can help you translate on the go.
IBD Passport also provides excellent advice for people travelling with Inflammatory Bowel Disease.